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Hayden McGuffin and the Skinny Chicken

“Make that chicken as big as the paper will let you,” urged Miss Coates, “and remember that your audience needs bold, full color, hefty size, and strongly drawn lines to be able to clearly see these marvelous players of the play which you are creating!” It was puppet show week, and Ms. Smith’s class was planning to perform Beauty and the Beaks. Joe was busy coloring the wall-eyed farmer’s overalls a lovely flesh color, Gordon was busy cutting blue fabric “jeans” to glue on to his character’s stubby legs, and Chloe was decking out her hen with long eyelashes, a lovely skirt, and all the feathery finery. Hayden, one of the most enthusiastic gals in the class when it came to art, was fearlessly charging ahead with her representation of one of the story’s beauty shop regulars, Hattie the Hen.

Hayden had a habit of walking up to the “Private Territory of Miss Coates” (otherwise known as her desk) upon which children had to knock if they wished to enter. (There has to be some space that’s sacred and untouched by little hands.) “Knock, knock!” came the squeaky little voice. “Come in!” Miss Coates welcomed her, and her light blue eyes and freckled, rosy face shone. Hayden launched into the continuing saga of the arts and crafts time that they have at her house, hemming and hawing and all but twirling her hair and tapping her toes with a sweet grin about the fact that they were about to turn their playroom into an art studio, “painting the walls and everything!” She giddily skipped to her table and planned out her chicken’s outfit, then set to work in her blue apron, armed with a tray of well-loved oil pastels.

Meanwhile, Miss Coates was about the business of assisting with the attachment of feathers, troubleshooting how to make a smile look more like a frown (the farmer’s wife wasn’t supposed to be happy!), and catching a handful of tears that fell from the frustration of not knowing how to draw a dress on a chicken. (I mean, who can blame her?) Oil pastels were steadily being rubbed down to the nubs, scissors were clipping, paper was flying, lines were being practiced, paint stir sticks were being taped to the backs of the little puppet bodies, and no one had fallen apart….yet.

Upon visiting the table nearest her desk, the table where Hayden McGuffin sat, tongue-stuck-out, deep in concentration over her chicken’s finely designed threads, Miss Coates noticed that Hattie had a lovely tank top, bows in her feathers, a flouncy little skirt and even purple boots! But sticking out of those boots were tiny little, well, chicken legs, and where the wings should have been were the same sort of chicken-leggish “arms.” Sacré Bleu! Hattie was just too skinny.

None of the parents would be able to see her from all the way in the back of the lunchroom, and then there were the grandparents with their failing eyesight. This wasn’t good. A fix had to be had. But how? Hayden had almost completed her puppet with such pride, and Miss Coates was terrified of what this might do to the young artist’s self esteem. “Um, Hayden, let’s talk about your puppet,” she began with fear and trembling, “Do you think that the audience will be able to see those tiny little legs and eyes and that itty-bitty beak?” “Well, no….I guess not…” “Then how about we turn it over and I help you draw a nice big fat new chicken?” Silence. Sniffle number one. (Oh no.) Sniffle number two. (I’m a murderer.) Then came the full-fledged folded-arms-and-head-on-table and the high whine of a cry’s beginning. (I should be shot. Or hanged. Shot in the knee and then hanged.)

No words could adequately encompass Miss Coates’ back-peddling at this point, or how deeply each little “sniff, sniff” rang in her ears. Rising above the emotional din, however, she steadfastly, and with a few little warm rubs on Hayden’s back, helped her draw the outline of a new, fuller-figured chicken and assured her that this chicken, too, could have such a fine looking outfit as the skinny one had worn. As they worked together, other children heard her sighs of sadness and gathered ’round to cheer and encourage. As the new chicken took shape, Hayden’s eyes brightened, her sniffles came at lesser intervals, and she even chuckled when Miss Coates tried to make a lame joke about the purple boots.

When she was finished designing and coloring and after she had cut out the large shape, the class decided together that it was a far more successful chicken. Her smile finally emerged. Miss Coates still felt like the biggest puppy-killer/tricycle-tire-slasher/balloon-popper on the planet. She was just sure, though, that for Hayden to have a successful chicken puppet, some changes had to be made. She recalled moments of her own childhood (and adult life too) where she had needed to be redirected, turned around and smacked gently on the rear. As she sent the class out the door, swept oil pastel crumbs into her hands and washed the tables, she paused and said a prayer of thanksgiving for these “grown-ups” who had loved her so entirely, then chuckled and sighed at the thought that she was now one of the very same, herself.

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